Johnny Cash’s grandson performed for inmates at California’s Folsom Prison to mark 50 years since his grandpa’s legendary concert, RadarOnline can exclusively reveal.
Thomas Gabriel, the country legend’s oldest grandchild, performed a set of his own songs and Cash classics at the prison on October 2, including Ring of Fire and Folsom Prison Blues, named for state facility.
In an exclusive interview with RadarOnline, Thomas said: “It was surreal. I’ve sung Folsom Prison Blues a million times and I’ve heard it my entire life. And to be singing it and looking around and realizing your right in the middle of Folsom Prison while singing it to the inmates who live IN Folsom Prison – it was very emotional.”
“I think my grandfather would be proud as he could be.”
Cash was one of the originators of the Rockabilly sound in the early 50s, recording for the same record label, Sun, as Elvis Presley.
His January 13, 1968 performance at Folsom Prison is regarded as one of the high points of his career, but by that time he was also struggling with his career.
For his part, Thomas is also seeking redemption from his own past. He had started to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps but after auditioning for him as a teenager, his famous relative told him he should get a “back-up” career, so he joined the police academy.
Eight years on the Nashville Police Department led to a drinking problem then drug addiction which ironically ended with a series of arrests and stints in prison, according to Gabriel.
“It wasn’t anything deviant, I was just a messed-up individual with anger issues,” he told Radar. “It got out of control when I lost my job, my family - everything… I was a down and out drunk.”
An intervention by family members and friends got him into a long-term rehab facility where he began counseling others. By 2015 he was sober and resumed his dream career – writing and playing music.
It took Thomas and his producers Kyle and Kenny Saylors eight months to convince officials at the maximum-security prison outside Sacramento to allow the country singer behind its walls.
“We got a standing ovation when we did Folsom Prison Blues! It was great – I couldn’t have been better,” he added.
Gabriel’s toughest critic was an elderly inmate who was unable to see Johnny’s original performance but heard it while he was stuck in solitary confinement!
“We had a good talk afterwards and he gave me his convicts’ thumbs up of approval,” he told Radar.
Johnny recorded and was revered up until his death in 2004, which followed just a few months after his wife June Cash Carter.
Thomas, who also performed songs from his new album, Long Way Homesaid he is trying to make arrangements to return to Folsom with his entire band.
For more information about Gabriel’s music visit www.thomasgabriel.com
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